Epatante put in a stunning display to land the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and blew apart the ante post betting for the Champion Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival in the process. The JP McManus-owned five-year-old was cut across the board for the opening day showpiece next March, with Paddy Power making her the 7/2 favourite (from 16/1) for the prestigious Grade 1 contest.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, the daughter of No Risk At All disappointed when hot favourite for the mares’ novices’ hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, but has looked a totally different proposition in winning both her starts this season. After an impressive success in the Listed 2m Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury, Epatante took the step up into Grade 1 company in her stride to follow-up at the Sunbury-on-Thames venue.
She was one of three saddled by Seven Barrows handler Hdnerson, and punted as if defeat was out of the question on the morning of the race. Having been backed in from 4/1 to 2/1 favourite, Epatante never gave her legion of supporters an anxious moment. Stablemate Fusil Raffles, who was previously unbeaten, was a spent force before the home turn but Barry Geraghty was still pulling double aboard Epatante.
When he asked her to go about her business after taking up the lead two from home she quickened clear approaching the final flight and strolled home on the run-in to easily beat Silver Streak by five lengths. It was a performance which oozed class and the form looks solid as the runner-up is a consistent sort who finished a fine third to the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen in this year’s Champion Hurdle.
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Henderson full of praise
Henderson told Racing TV:
“I’ve got to say I was a Fusil Raffles fan, but she was impressive. I’ve even got to admit it myself – she was very good.
“We’ve come straight from Newbury, which was a handicap. I wanted to go to Ascot last weekend, but JP wanted to come here and he was absolutely dead right.
“Going into Cheltenham last season I thought she was our best chance in the mares’ novice, but she didn’t run her race. She had done everything right up until then and has done everything right since.”
“She is lovely and has a great temperament with a lovely attitude and she is a great jumper. I saw Barry for 30 seconds after the race and I said, ‘what next?’. He said ‘win the Champion Hurdle’, so I suppose that is what I better do!”
Ideal attributes for the Champion hurdler
Epatante is now likely to be put away and kept fresh for the big one and that could well be a shrewd move as she has proven winning form fresh. I was personally very impressed with the way in which Epatante disposed of a proven top class performer in the shape of Silver Streak. Epatante showed a tendency to race very keenly last season but is now settling much better.
She is super slick at her hurdles, which enable her to gain lengths on her rivals, and is a string travelling sort with a pitenet turn of foot. Those are the ideal attributes needed to become a Champion hurdler, and in many ways she reminds me of dual winner Buveur D’air. Epatante also has youth on her side and is clearly progressing at a rate of knots and remains with bags of untapped potential going forward.
She looks like the real deal and I firmly believe that she is a worthy new favourite for the Champion Hurdle and the one they all have to beat next March should things go to plan.
RSA the target for Kautor Star victor Sate House
Slate House is on course for a crack at the RSA at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival following a ready success in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. Master Tommytucker set out to make all the running under Harry Cobden and was still bowling along at the head of affairs when getting too tight to the fourth fence from the finish and coming to grief.
His departure left Black Op in the lead, but Robbie Power was sitting pretty at this stage on the strong travelling Slate House and looked to have all corners covered. The two then battled it out all the way up the home straight, and despite a slow leap at the last, the Colin Tizzard trained seven-year-old found plenty to score readily by 1 1/4 lengths.
“He is a different horse this year. He has just grown into himself and we have a lovely, strong stayer now.”
Asked whether the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival could be the long-term target, the hye added:
“Definitely. He looks a thorough stayer and he has beaten some good horses there.
“Whether we have a run in between now and the Festival, I don’t know. We are only in December, but I doubt he will.
“He is a proper horse now, we have a Grade One in the bag and there is still quite a bit of the season left. “It would be nice to think he could be back for the King George next year.”
Slate House is currently a top priced 16/1 with William Hill for the RSA – and that could well represent a bit of each-way value.